With Rise of Rumour-Triggered Lynchings, Centre Tells WhatsApp to Act

Media playback is unsupported on your device                  Media caption The India Whats App video driving people to murder

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption The India Whats App video driving people to murder

Noting that miscreants were repeatedly circulating provocative messages and triggering a spate of violence, the government said it has "conveyed in no uncertain terms that WhatsApp must take immediate action to end this menace and ensure that their platform is not used for such malafide activities".

An official familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity the implicit message is that if the messaging service does not act, the government would be forced to act.

Last week, five people were lynched to death by villagers in Maharashtra's Dhule district after videos of child lifters were actively circulated on a WhatsApp group.

In a statement, the ministry of electronics and IT said on Tuesday, instances of lynching of innocent people have been noticed recently because of large number of irresponsible and explosive messages filled with rumours and provocation are being circulated on WhatsApp. Prasad also asked WhatsApp to work in a coordinated manner with the country's IT Department, Home Ministry and the police.

Twenty-seven people have been killed in 13 incidents of vigilante attacks inspired by false WhatsApp messages warning of child kidnappers or organ harvesters since May, according to the Times of India.

With more than 200 million users, India is WhatsApp's biggest market.

It also said that messaging platform "cannot evade accountability and responsibility" when such services are abused by users to spread misinformation.

The most recent incident, which took place on Sunday, saw five agricultural workers killed by a crowd of 40, as 3,000 more people looked on. To that end, it pointed to recently introduced group admin controls, a label for forwarded messages that's now in testing, and funding for research on the spread of misinformation in India.

A WhatsApp spokesperson had then said that the company would boost its efforts to help curb false news.

"But the platform is responsible for enabling anonymous sending forwards", said Nikhil Pahwa, a digital rights activist and founder of a portal that covers technology and social media policy in India.

WhatsApp has begun to take evasive action, announcing that it has commissioned a set of global awards for research studying the spread of misinformation. And it is testing a feature that would label "forwards". "We use Machine Learning to identify accounts sending a high volume of messages (faster than any human could), and we are constantly working to improve our ability to stop unwanted automated messages", it stated. Nikhil Pahwa, a technology expert warned in a blog post on his site, MediaNama, that the India's "massive" fake news problem is "going to get worse".

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